Question from the gallery:
How much do you think it will matter that Mitt Romney is a Mormon? And does it matter in your own thinking about him?
Since I think at this point it’s all but certain Romney will be the GOP nominee, I’m not sure it’s mattered greatly in a negative sense. I’m pretty sure in a couple of cases it will work to his advantage; for example, tonight, in the Nevada caucuses, as Nevada is the state with the 7th largest population of LDS folk (4th biggest per capita), LDS folk tend to skew Republican/conservative, and in the 2008 Nevada caucuses, LDS folks who voted GOP went 90% for Romney and were 25% of the caucus voters. So, yes, in Nevada? Not a problem.
Is it a problem with the GOP elsewhere? Possibly, although I don’t have the stats at my fingertips. I will say it’s possible it may have been more of a problem if Romney had been in a more competitive field of candidates, but he got lucky in his GOP opponents this time around. With apologies to Santorum and Paul supporters, at this point it’s between Romney and Gingrich. While you can’t count Gingrich out unless you stake his heart, chop off his head, fill his mouth with garlic and bury him at a crossroad, I think most GOP voters realize at this point that the vampire treatment is exactly what Obama would do to Gingrich in the general election. There’s also the very real possibility that in going down, Gingrich would take all of the modern GOP with him, on the thinking that as he was the one who birthed it, he might as well kill it off, too. Romney, whatever his other flaws or advantages, at least won’t immolate his entire party if he loses the election.
At the end of the day, Romney has consistently been the GOP frontrunner in this election cycle. Gingrich spikes up past him now and then, but that’s just it: He spikes. Then people remember Gingrich is Gingrich (Romney spending millions in attack ads helps) and then it’s back to status quo. I know of grumbles of Romney’s LDS affiliation among some evangelical GOP voters, but it seems like it’s been just that: grumbles. There’s also this: When it comes right down to it, do these evangelical GOP voters dislike the idea of an LDS member in the White House more than they dislike Obama? I’m gonna go with a “no” here.
Regarding the general election, I think Romney’s major problem is not his religious belief but everything else about him, starting with the fact he’s socially clueless about how obnoxious he is about his wealth, and (conversely) how much the electorate is becoming sensitized to the fact he’s a clueless rich dude. I’m not going to suggest his LDS affiliation won’t matter to some voters; it will. I just don’t think it’s going to land in the top five concerns that most voters have about him.
Does Romney being a member of the LDS church concern me personally? No. Readers here will recall that of all the GOP candidates this cycle, the one I liked best (and even sent money to) was Jon Huntsman, who is also a member of the LDS church. So my recent track record on this particular aspect of a candidate’s profile is at the very least neutral.
In a larger sense, on a purely personal and anecdotal level, my overall feelings about LDS church members defaults to vaguely positive. This is mostly because I know a fair number of LDS folks, and the ones I know personally tend to be good people whose company I enjoy. I allow that this may have less to do with their church affiliation and more to do with the fact I like good people and don’t tally church affiliation of any sort as an automatic negative. Good people you like are hard to find and you should cherish them without the use of a checklist. Be that as it may, that’s my initial default, so it doesn’t hurt Romney any.
Regarding the LDS Church as an entity, there’s a lot about its political and social positions I dislike and disagree with, and I think its theological underpinnings are a heaping stack of nonsense. This puts it on a par with a number of churches, including the Catholic church, a whole pile of protestant churches (particularly evangelical churches), and pretty a fair number of non-Christian religions (and/or their various sects) to boot. I certainly could not be an LDS church member now; if I were born into it I’m pretty sure I’d be apostate. But again, that’d be true regardless of church. Luckily for me, aside from a baptism I didn’t have a vote on and wasn’t followed up on in any event, I’ve never had a church affiliation. I don’t have to be apostate; I can just be not religious.
I don’t automatically hold official church positions against church members, regardless of religion. I assume individual church members have brains and agency and may or may not agree philosophically with every single proclamation that comes out of their particular hierarchy. People who assume that Romney will take orders from Salt Lake City are on par with the voters of 1960 who assumed that Kennedy would take orders from Rome. I have no intention of voting for Romney in the general election. But when I don’t vote for him, his being a member of the LDS church won’t be a part of it.
Would I ever vote for a member of the LDS church for public office? Sure, if their political positions were aligned with mine for the office they were seeking. Romney’s don’t, which is why he won’t get my vote in November.